At a news conference aimed at addressing the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Japan’s entertainment industry, the 56-year-old former boy band member who heads the country’s most powerful talent agency was asked if he had ever harassed young male artists.
“I may or may not have done it,” Noriyuki Higashiyama, the new president of Johnny & Associates, said this month. “I’m trying to catch up on my memory, but there’s a lot of things I really can’t remember.”
His response was the final straw for some of the agency’s corporate clients, after the agency was slow to acknowledge that its founder, Johnny Kitagawa, committed sexual abuse.
Kitagawa, who died in 2019, was known for pioneering the boy band genre in Asia and had long been accused of abusing young male performers. This year, Beichuan has an estimated 100 or more victims, several of whom broke their silence in a BBC documentary, triggering a crisis at the company.
The scandal is similar to Britain’s Jimmy Savile sexual assault scandal and the #MeToo movement sparked by former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuse of actresses and other women.
In Japan, some of the country’s largest companies and many of its listed media groups have come under intense pressure for working with the agency, despite rumors of abuse dating back decades. The Financial Times is part of the Nikkei Media Group.
“We have been passive so far and companies have to reflect on that,” Takeshi Niinami, chief executive of drinks group Suntory and chairman of business lobbying at the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, told the Financial Times.
“Now we must raise our voices,” he said, adding that using the agency’s individual performers for advertising would be tantamount to condoning child abuse.
Suntory is among dozens of Japanese companies that have announced they will not work with Johnny & Associates actors on commercials until the agency does more to address the allegations and prevent future abuse, including Japan Airlines, Nissan, Kirin and Shiseido one.
Last week, the agency, which is 100 percent owned by Kitagawa’s niece and the agency’s former president, Julie Fujishima, said it would pay financial compensation to its alleged victims. It also pledged to appoint an external chief compliance officer and strengthen harassment training for its performers.
Beer maker Asahi, which has used several Johnny performers in TV commercials, said in a statement that it was “impossible” to continue working with the agency.
“The investigation found a clear lack of adequate victim support and a lack of significant organizational change…” . is completely unacceptable,” it added.
Another executive at a Japanese company that cut ties with the agency added: “I don’t think anyone knows exactly what happened, but there are rumors…” . There is nothing to be gained by maintaining this relationship. “
Japan’s mainstream media has also been criticized for ignoring the accusations, despite biographies of former artists published in the 1980s, an in-depth magazine article in 1999, and a related civil case brought to Japan’s Supreme Court in 2004.
In a 71-page report commissioned by Johnny & Associates in late August, a panel of outside experts concluded that media silence helped deepen the agency’s cover-up, ultimately increasing the number of alleged victims. . According to hearings held by the panel, Kitagawa’s sexual abuse allegations first emerged in the 1950s, when he was in his 20s.
Although NHK has apologized for failing to investigate Kitagawa’s conduct, it is still working to sever ties with the agency as variety shows and dramas rely heavily on the company’s actors.
Even after his death, Kitagawa’s company continues to be home to some of Japan’s most prolific stars and hits, including Takuya Kimura, a former member of the boy band Smap, and Kimura, known for his roles in Clint Eastwood’s films. Actor Kazunari Ninomiya Letters from Iwo Jima.
Other talent agencies may benefit from distancing themselves from Johnny & Associates.
But the focus on Kitagawa, now deceased, rather than on the industry as a whole, means there is little hope for a broader public reckoning on sexual harassment and abuse.
“It’s true that things can’t stay the same, but I think it’s hard to assume that this will bring about fundamental changes,” said Mamoru Nishiyama, a marketing expert and associate professor at JF Oberlin University.
“If all the allegations are investigated and cleared . . . it could lead to the repositioning of many people in today’s entertainment industry.”
Johnny & Associates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.